Long Beach Local Sues California Lottery for Prize Money


Every day, hundreds of thousands of Californians purchase lottery tickets in the hopes of striking it 'rich, but one man says the state's lottery commission is refusing to fork over his prize. Ward Thomas, a resident of Long Beach, has filed a lawsuit alleging the California State Lottery Commission is wrongfully refusing to pay up.

Thomas says his scratch-off ticket is a winner to the tune of $5 million, a life-changing sum of money.

The commission doesn't dispute that Thomas's ticket held the winning numbers. They argue instead that the ticket is invalid because Thomas didn't actually buy it himself--his 16-year-old son made the purchase. The problem is that under California state law minors, meaning anyone under the age of 18, are prohibited from gambling. Thus, the Commission says, the ticket is invalid because the boy was "not legally able to play the lottery."

But that argument makes little sense to Thomas and his attorneys. They point out that the lottery commission apparently had no problem with Thomas's son playing the lottery when he bought the ticket. They argue that since the commission failed to uphold its own rules when the tickets were sold, it can't start upholding them now that the tickets have won.

An ongoing mystery in the case is how the commission discovered that Thomas's son was the one to buy the ticket. The lawsuit doesn't offer an explanation, and so far neither Thomas nor his attorneys have shed light on the question. One possibility is that Thomas told them himself without realizing it might endanger his winnings. Before paying out large prizes, the commission sometimes asks players whether they bought their tickets themselves.

It's unclear how strong Thomas's case is, in part because it is highly unusual. The California Lottery has is one of the oldest in the country, and it has never become involved in a legal dispute like this before. The commission may be right under the letter of the law, but if the case proceeds to trial all bets are off. It might be difficult to convince a jury to nullify a $5 million prize simply because Thomas' didn't personally pay for the ticket. Plus, it might be possible for the jury to award Thomas more than $5 million. His lawsuit does not specify damages.

The commission will probably want to avoid the risk of a trial. The most likely outcome, according to lawyers, is an out-of-court settlement.